We've got a post-script from last week's Designers Accord Town Hall Meeting at Continuum in Los Angeles. Thanks to Theresa Chiueh for her thoughts and photographs!
Los Angeles inaugurated its first Designers Accord Town Hall meeting in Venice at Continuum's studio. Attendance was amazing—about 60 designers came to the event, representing all parts of LA: the Valley, Pasadena, Hollywood, Long Beach, and Orange County. Local design schools were also well represented by faculty and students from Art Center, OTIS, and Cal State Long Beach. RKS Design, BLACK Design, Stuart Karten Design and Ashcraft Design were all there, and we were lucky to have Marty Smith visiting from Hong Kong! It was heartwarming to see the design community gather in the former Charles and Ray Eames studio—you could feel the spirit of design in the studio as people mingled over pizza and drinks.
Alexandre Hennen kicked it all off by presenting Colorblind—Continuum's research study conducted with Communispace to understand why and how people make "green" choices. Alex shared some interesting insights from the study. For example, people don't understand where they have the biggest impact on the environment. They focus on trash and recycling although it has little impact compared to the food that they consume and the transportation that they use. The environment is an abstract place outside of their home—it's difficult to understand the impact their actions have on it. As a result people don't do things because it's good for the environment—they make choices to benefit themselves and their families in the short term. As designers, we can help people connect their short term choices with their long term implications and to understand better what role they play in sustaining our world for future generations.
The next speaker, Jenny Liang presented her Master's Thesis in Product Design from Art Center, Hungry World. The inspiration for her thesis came from the revelation that kids are having a difficult time learning abstract systems concepts in science classes and teachers are looking for tools to help them teach these concepts. If children don't understand the abstract concepts of science, then how can we expect them to understand concepts like environmental impact? She took a holistic view of the problem and designed a holistic, tangible and experiential system to teach the concept of energy flows in food chains. Her solution created a common design language through characters and forms representing each part of the food chain. These characters and forms are carried into a diverse set of teaching tools and experiences: classroom curricula, workbooks, a playground, physical play & imagination activities, cartoons and videos, and picture books. Her thesis was a refreshing and insightful solution to address the need for greater awareness and understanding at the elementary school level.
Our final speaker was Prof. Nirmal Sethia of Business and Design from Cal Poly Pomona's Business School. Prof. Sethia shared the importance of addressing not only social and sustainable impact, but economic impact as well. He highlighted the need for all of us to address the problem of excessive consumption. For example, we are eating ourselves sick, which leads to systematic health care issues. Change is underway—but we need to address this as an urgent issue. Prof. Sethia is committed to bringing business and design leaders together to promote a sustainable future. He reminded us that we live in a world driven by business and we need to incorporate economic impact into our thinking.
Inspired by these three speakers, we shared our thoughts and ideas in the town hall. Rob Creighton mentioned a conversation with his parents about swapping normal bulbs with CFL (Compact Fluorescent Light) ones. They were confused about shopping for these bulbs (flickering, poor light quality), and Rob wondered what designers could do to help clear it up. Barent Roth mentioned that he's seen a store in NYC that has solved this problem: Green Depot. They have a light booth where one can try out each light bulb and see how it looks and works. He also mentioned a University of Chicago study that supported the idea of switching from a meat based diet to a vegetable based one to minimize one's impact to the planet. (If you're not a vegetarian then, try having a least one vegetarian day a week!)
James Chu brought up the issues associated with water consumption. He mentioned that the average US person uses 250 gallons of water a day, and that the percentage of potable water that we have on the planet is miniscule—in fact, water is the primary reason for the war in Sudan. James also brought up the oxymoronic idea of having a lush green lawn—why do people spend so much time and water growing grass just to cut it down? Rob shared information about CLUI—the Center for Land Use Interpretation. CLUI hosts tours to educate people about water cycles and other sustainability issues. Mike Funk from CCA's Design Strategy MBA asked if Colorblind found that younger generations were more aware and knowledgeable about sustainability. Age wasn't a factor in awareness and understanding. The key driver in impact wasn't political affiliation or lifestage—it is income. The higher the income one has; the greater the impact one has.
Stephanie Smith noted that we should all read a book called Ecotopia, written by Ernest Callenbach and published in 1975. Stephanie believes that we need to create a new vision to replace the American Dream of consumerism. We need to elevate the excitement level to create this new dialogue—solving sustainability is a vision problem right now. Barent Roth from Sustainable Works agreed and suggested that we need to attack the issue of consumption. As people's income increases, consumption increases, but happiness doesn't increase. What can replace this drive for more is better? Josh Nakaya from Art Center recommended reading Small is Beautiful and commented that this is the time for us as designers to stop targeting just the reptilian brain, but to create mindfulness, purposefulness, and positive thinking in people. In response, Jenny Liang recommended the book, Consumption in Everyday Life, and talked about how purchases today create our identities. We need to create a vision where we don't use objects and consumption to identify ourselves. Let's design a new status. James Jackson provided another perspective. Designers have had the same conversations 30 years ago, but now we have very sophisticated talent here. This is going to be based on incremental change. More intelligent consumerism should be pursued. As designers, don't be driven away from our practice. Finally, Jani from RKS Design commented that clients are talking about sustainability. We need to shift our thinking from protective to proactive. We should be more positive through the consumption cycle, more "econurturing". What new distribution models could encourage economic growth? What about designing for repair instead of recycling?
LA Town Hall Recommended Reading List:
Diet, Energy, and Global Warming written by Gidon Eshel and Pamela A. Martin.
Ecotopia which was written by Ernest Callenbach and published in 1975
Small is Beautiful written by EF Schumacher in 1973
Consumption in Everyday Life written by Hugh Mackay in 1997.